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Rook To TN34 Joseph Burnett , March 21st, 2016 09:37

"More or less everything these days can be traced back to a one-bedroom flat in Godalming", Baron Mordant intones mysteriously at the outset of 'Britain's Got Talon', the opening track on Rook To TN34, his second full album in tandem with Ekoplekz's Nick Edwards. As on their masterful debut, Your Crate Has Changed, the duo knit together Mordant's often cryptic, frequently sombre, occasionally scary and sometimes hilarious lyrics, ones that eviscerate modern British life even as they draw its portrait in vivid hues, with Edwards' mutated, sickly mélange of dub and electro-pop, and in the process have come up - whether by design or chance, I'm not 100% sure - with a song form that is as close to unique as you can get these days.

'Britain's Got Talon' starts out in that lonely Surrey apartment (as an aside, there is something so evocative about the word Godalming, it's three syllables encapsulating Middle England in all its banal-yet-oddball non-majesty) and navigates its way around the country's empty dreams and seasick futurism. Baron Mordant's lyrics combine esoteric meanderings with gritty realism, sometimes in the same sentence, always with a witty bit of wordplay close at hand ("404 unfounded/Self-released/Pissing in the wind farm[...]/Modern life is autotuned/Scaling new lows!"). Only gradually does the dark and kaleidoscopic imagery reveal the Baron's true intent, the words coalescing like crystals into a grim, even apocalyptic, portrayal of pop culture in a 21st century dominated by simplistic soundbites, plastic reality television, crude advertising and endless streams of online drivel. "Heartbreaking deaths in football following me around Youtube and eBay" he mutters towards the end, before concluding with those darkly comical words: "Britain's Got Talon!" reverberated into a ghost's voice. All the while, Ekoplekz has been fitting Mordant's words into a simple, swirling fragments, all hazy early Cabaret Voltaire mulch and Suicide percussion. In under two minutes, 'Britain's Got Talon' captures eMMplekz in all their unwell glory, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

Credit to the duo, they don't flinch from the unrelenting darkness of the path this sets them on ("At 45 I found the place I wanted to die" should give you an idea of the ambiance on Rook To TN34). Fans of Ekoplekz will recognise the uneasy textures of his analogue synth patterns instantly, but unlike so many artists hovering at the edges of what might be called Hauntology, Rook To TN34 is not a mere exercise in hunting for the ghosts and unease in the crevices on vintage electronica, for all the ectoplasm they unearth along the way. Baron Mordant kicks off 'MeMbrane', for example, with a saddened remark that Trish Keenan from Broadcast is still pervading his inbox - "Unsubscribe!" he practically yelps, in just a few words needling to the core of modern unease, as we navigate a world in which the dead are beamed back at us from our computer screens. It is a sign of Mordant's talent for deploying words that, for all its sinister undertones, 'MeMbrane' remains defined by that opening pathos, the pain of a great artist lost too soon. Elsewhere, his caustic humour takes wings more overtly, as on 'Less Trap More Clap': "I see the sea! The sea sees me" he cries, plugging into an aged cliché, "CCTV!". On 'Gloomy Leper Techno', he takes pleasure in manipulating his vocals, swerving them between Alan Vega-esque mutant Elvis and Alvin and the Chipmunks eunuch squeak, especially when repeating the words "Cheers, mate, bye", elevating that pointless platitude to the status of a mantra. And what to make of a line like "John Frusciante's got my green universal indicator", which opens 'Ancient Weather Riffs'? Red Hot Chilli Peppers, talent TV shows, the internet, small towns: nothing is safe from the morosely humane gaze of Ian Hicks-I mean-Baron Mordant.

Even the arguably often dour Edwards seems to be enjoying himself more than usual on Rook To TN34, laying down fat beats or looped synth melodies that fit perfectly with Mordant's bizarre vistas of Albion and the ether, but also within a very British musical tradition that owes a debt to folk but truly took flight with the advent of cheap analogue synths: it's the death disco of Throbbing Gristle and Coil, with smears of dark ambient ladled on top for good measure. On average, this album carries more percussion than Your Crate Has Changed, but the music remains subservient to Baron Mordant's words. Edwards most remarkable workout is on 'People Are (So Fucking) People", toying with sashaying percussion and hypnotic oscillations before blaring over both, and Mordant's vocals ("He knows his shit/Eight bit/He can't come out tonight due to Netflix" - genius!) with a series of noisy, high-pitched cascades of nasty drone. I always thought that despite so many imitators both good and bad, there would never be an act that could properly be compared to Throbbing Gristle, but eMMplekz are just that. Mordant's voice is more despairing and deadpan than Genesis P-Orridge, but then he's not looking to shock, merely to narrate an uncomfortable truth in his own inimitable way.

The journey from Godalming ends in 'Hastings', amid threats of scurvy and dreams that bleed the past of William the Conqueror into the present, with its arcades and decaying former resort glory. It's probably the most lyrically dextrous piece on the album, and a fitting finale, as Baron Mordant and Nick "Ekoplekz" Edwards stare out at the sea, bereft of answers to the malaise they've explored across the past 50 minutes, but with their humour, verve and this music still grasped tightly to their chests. "My beautiful David Tibet Launderette", Mordant says at the death. I have no idea what that means, but it's hilarious, creepy and poignant. Just like Rook To TN34.